Gainesville ER nurse describes COVID-19 scene as ‘warzone’ at NYC hospital

Editor’s Note

This is the first in a series entitled “Frontline NYC” by Mainstreet Daily News Staff Writer Suzette Cook about the experiences of nurses from Gainesville dispatched to New York City in the fight against COVID-19.

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UF Health Shands Hospital ER Nurse Julie Hulsey answered the call from FEMA on March 26th, and two days later she got word she was clear to go and was on a plane headed to New York City, the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, where cases top 92,000.

Hulsey and other nurses from Gainesville were on the same flight out of Gainesville Regional Airport set to work a 21-day rotation.


“Two other nurses were in that wave with a fourth already in NYC,” Hulsey said.

For Hulsey, 38, who has worked in the ER at Shands for 10 years, the fast pace is nothing new.

“I came to the hotel and we met in the lobby for a (face) mask fit test,” she said. “And I was bused to a hospital the next day and assigned to an ER.”

Hulsey toured Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, a 371-bed facility and said she got a “crash course” on the epidemic’s impact.

“There were patients on ventilators with no monitors,” she said. “Dead patients left in rooms with other COVID-19 patients.”

But even with that, Coney Island Hospital seems managed, she said.

For the Record

“I feel like it’s a losing battle. Like going into a warzone with bullets flying all around you. You can try to avoid it, but you are like’ I’m going to get shot. I just hope I don’t get a kill shot.’”

–ER Nurse Julie Hulsey

The mindset of the nurses according to Hulsey: Every single patient has COVID-19, and if they don’t have it when they come in, they’ll have it when they leave because there’s no doors on the rooms, just curtains and a nurse station in the middle.

“That’s the way that they are functioning,” she said. “You assume that everyone has COVID.”

The hospital where Hulsey will work from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. for the next three weeks has two floors out of 11 designated for non-COVID-19 patients. 

“They are attempting to keep them COVID-free,” she said. “But not hopeful that it will last.

“Most patients are on ventilators, on CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) or some form of oxygen.”

“There is no way to prevent the spread in this facility,” Hulsey said. 

“If you are taking off your PPE (personal protective equipment), there is no safe place to take off your gown, hat… no designated area.”

There are a couple of isolation rooms and positive COVID-19 patients in hallways.

“I know that I am going to be exposed to it,” Hulsey said. “I know that even just walking in there… even though I had a mask on. COVID is in the air.”

There are three tents set up outside of the hospital ready to receive more patients, Hulsey observed.

“Back inside the ER ward, Hulsey said, “I feel like it’s a losing battle. Like going into a warzone with bullets flying all around you.

“You can try to avoid it, but you are like’ I’m going to get shot. I just hope I don’t get a kill shot.’”

Hulsey is originally from Polk County, and earned her RN degree at Santa Fe Community College.

Her advice to the Gator Nation and beyond is stay in your “bubbles”.

“It’s coming,” she added. “This is just a preview of things to come for everyone in the U.S. if people don’t stay home.”

As of April 3rd, the CDC reported 9,000 confirmed cases in Florida at 43.7 per capita (per 1,000 people). NYC was at 92,770 with 472.9 per capita. Alachua County reported 95 cases.

Hulsey reminds people that the virus can live on surfaces for up to three weeks.

“Somebody goes to WalMart and coughs near the buggies and someone comes in two hours later and gets a buggy, they can be exposed,” she warned.

The shortage of PPE has not been exaggerated in news reports. According to Hulsey, medical personnel are “using the same PPE, and changing out gowns every so often.

“At least at Shands, we still have supplies for proper PPE in and out of the room,” she said.

“I don’t know how to stop it. People are dying alone.”

To read part two:Gainesville nurse on tour of duty against COVID-19 in New York City”, go here.

To read part three: “You can’t win a war if you send your soldiers into battle without armor”, go here.

To read part four: “Gainesville nurse resigns to answer calling in New York City hospital”, go here.

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